Lesotho is a source, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to conditions of forced labor and sex trafficking, and for men subjected to conditions of forced labor. Within Lesotho, women and children are subjected to domestic servitude and children, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation. Basotho women and children endure these same forms of exploitation in South Africa. Long-distance truck drivers offer to transport women and girls looking for legitimate employment. En route, the drivers rape some of these women and girls before forcing them into prostitution in South Africa. Others voluntarily migrate to South Africa seeking work in domestic service and are detained in prison-like conditions and forced to engage in prostitution. Some Basotho men who migrate voluntarily, though illegally, to South Africa for work in agriculture and mining become victims of forced labor; many work for weeks or months without pay, with their employers turning them over to authorities to be deported for immigration violations before their promised pay day. Basotho are also coerced into committing crimes, including theft, drug dealing, and drug smuggling under threats of violence or through forced drug use. Chinese and Nigerian organized crime rings reportedly acquire Basotho victims while transporting foreign victims through Lesotho to Johannesburg. The trend of foreign nationals trafficking their compatriots, first observed in 2011, continued during the reporting period. In 2011, Ethiopian and Chinese nationals trafficked their compatriots and, in 2012, an Indian national allegedly trafficked Indian men for the purposes of forced labor and a Zimbabwean national trafficked two Zimbabwean women into forced prostitution. During the year, a Basotho trafficking victim was identified in the United States.
The Government of Lesotho does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Although the government did initiate one labor trafficking prosecution, it did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period; therefore, Lesotho is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. During the recent reporting period, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) temporarily suspended its arrest of suspected trafficking offenders and halted its referral of Basotho victims to care. In addition, the trend of acquittals of alleged trafficking offenders continued in 2012. In one instance, the government also detained three trafficking victims. Although it identified eight victims and referred two for care, the government continued its reliance on NGOs to assist victims, without providing funding or in-kind support for these services. The lack of leadership by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the absence of national government attention to critical gaps—such as the need for additional prosecutors to oversee trafficking cases— inhibited progress in 2012. In addition, the government did not implement key portions of the 2011 anti-trafficking act for a third consecutive year, including failing to develop formal referral procedures, establish victim care centers, and complete a national action plan.
Recommendations for Lesotho: Enact implementing regulations for the 2011 anti-trafficking act; finalize and implement the national anti-trafficking action plan; continue to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses under the 2011 act, including both internal and transnational cases; provide care to victims of trafficking via government-run centers or in partnership with international organizations or NGOs and develop a formal mechanism, in line with the 2011 act, to refer victims to such care; develop a formal system to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; increase training in victim identification for law enforcement officers to ensure victims are not incarcerated for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked; differentiate the process of victim identification from the prosecution of trafficking offenders, as victim identification should not be tied to the successful prosecution of a trafficker; establish a partnership with South African police to investigate reports of Basotho citizens forced to labor on farms in South Africa; increase oversight of labor recruitment agencies licensed in Lesotho and investigate allegations of fraudulent recruitment or contract violations; and establish a system to collect and analyze data on victims identified and assisted, trafficking offenses investigated and prosecuted, and trafficking offenders convicted and punished.
The government decreased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year. It initiated fewer prosecutions than in 2011, suspended its arrest of trafficking offenders for several months, and in one case detained victims. In 2012, the government acquitted two trafficking offenders, closed one pending prosecution, and initiated one new prosecution, a decrease from five prosecutions initiated in 2011. Two cases currently remain pending. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which came into effect in January 2011, prohibits and punishes all forms of trafficking in persons. It prescribes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $125,000 under Section 5(1) for the trafficking of adults, and up to life imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $250,000 under Section 5(2) for the trafficking of children; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Labor recruiters who knowingly recruit workers for forced labor are liable for the same penalties as those who hold them in servitude. The government has yet to begin drafting implementing regulations necessary to enforce the legislation in full. The Child Protection and Welfare Act, enacted in March 2011, provides penalties of life imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $125,000 for child trafficking.
The government has not successfully punished a trafficking offender under the 2011 act. The Director of Public Prosecutions did not appeal the May 2012 overturning of a Chinese trafficker’s conviction, which had been the first conviction under the 2011 act. Of five cases that remained pending prosecution at the close of the previous reporting period, one resulted in the acquittal of two Ethiopians charged with labor trafficking of an Ethiopian national and another was closed due to the death of the alleged offender during the year. At the close of 2012, the two other prosecutions remained in process, involving two alleged perpetrators. One labor trafficking prosecution was initiated in November 2012 against an Indian national charged with trafficking three Indian men, but the case has not been pursued. In that case, the men reported to police their enslavement in bonded labor, but the alleged trafficker claimed to police that the men were in breach of contract for not repaying their travel expenses. A magistrate instructed the complaining workers be arrested and detained, though after the victims had been imprisoned 14 days, this order was overturned. The government did not investigate or prosecute allegations of official complicity during the year.
Police anti-trafficking activities were reduced during the year. From October to December 2012, the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) of the LMPS ceased arresting suspected trafficking offenders due to a backlog of prosecutions under the single prosecutor overseeing trafficking cases. As a result, at least two alleged trafficking offenders were not arrested or charged and the pace of investigations slowed. Although officials pledged to train additional prosecutors, the government did not assign or train additional prosecutors to handle the trafficking case backlog during the year. In addition, the government decreased regional cooperative efforts during the year, failing to initiate any joint investigations with the South African Police Service, as compared to 21 such investigations initiated in 2011 and seven in 2010. The LMPS did not independently train its officers on trafficking during the year, including senior-level officers. However, in July, August, and September 2012, with technical assistance from LMPS, an NGO trained 120 CGPU, Special Investigations Unit, and Immigration Unit officers from three districts. No investigations of labor brokers occurred despite allegations of abusive practices in cases involving Basotho victims.
The government’s efforts to protect victims decreased during the reporting period. The CGPU identified eight trafficking victims in 2012—a reduction from 24 victims identified in 2011—and referred two victims to an NGO-run care center. The government, however, failed to directly assist victims or provide support to this NGO during the year, despite its pledges to provide this center financial support. During the year, the LMPS determined it would no longer refer Basotho victims for care at NGO-run centers; rather, officials would return them to their home communities without provision of services. Medical services were potentially accessible to victims free of charge at government hospitals and clinics and the CGPU has the capacity to provide limited counseling to victims; however, officials did not refer victims to such services during the year. The government continued its operation of a one-stop drop-in center in Maseru for the protection of victims of gender-based violence that includes specialized—though limited—services for both male and female victims of trafficking; no trafficking victims were referred to this facility during the year. The government did not consistently encourage victims to assist in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Although the government did not deport victims during the year, it failed to provide trafficking victims with temporary or permanent residency permits. Although the 2011 trafficking law mandates the development of national referral guidelines and the establishment of a fund to protect and rehabilitate victims, the government did not undertake either initiative during the year.
The 2011 law protects victims from prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, provides foreign victims with permanent residency as a legal alternative to their removal, and encourages victims to assist in the investigation of traffickers; however, the government unevenly applied these provisions during the reporting period. Three Indian trafficking victims were detained for 14 days after complaining about working conditions. Additionally, the MHA denied the immigration petitions of one Ethiopian trafficking victim on the grounds that she was ineligible based upon the unsuccessful prosecution of her alleged traffickers. In addition, two Zimbabwean victims were denied permanent residency. In the pending labor trafficking case, however, the government temporarily held the passports of the victims in order to compel their assistance in the prosecution of their alleged trafficker.
The Government of Lesotho decreased its efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Its multi-sector committee—under the leadership of the MHA—did not meet monthly as it had during the previous reporting period and convened only twice in 2012. The committee failed to complete a national action plan or coordinate awareness activities. Nonetheless, in September 2012, the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation sponsored an awareness raising event in Mohale’s Hoek, which featured a march, rally, and artistic competitions to raise awareness on the nature of trafficking and the legal protections available to victims. The LMPS, in partnership with an NGO, enlisted inter-city taxi drivers to identify and prevent trafficking.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) conducted approximately 1,200 labor inspections during the year. Effectiveness was limited in the informal sector where child labor is most prevalent, including in private homes. Inspectors identified one potential trafficking case involving a 14-year old domestic worker in 2012. MOLE licensed 40 South African farming and construction companies to recruit workers from Lesotho and required these companies to use standardized contracts; however, some companies failed to adhere to their provisions upon the workers’ arrival in South Africa. Although it receives many complaints from returned laborers about their working conditions, MOLE only files complaints against, and suspends the permits of, these companies when the violation involves many reported victims or extreme violence. There were no such suspensions in 2012. The government made no efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.